Federal agents arrest Maryland man wanted for international child kidnapping

Federal agents have arrested a Maryland man who was accused of international parental kidnapping, ending a six-year saga that drew the attention of the state's top elected officials.

FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents arrested Faical Chebbi of Accokeek on Wednesday after he landed at Dulles International Airport, prosecutors said.

Chebbi, who made an initial appearance in court Thursday, was accused of taking his two children to Tunisia in 2011 after picking them up for a weekend visitation, despite agreeing in court that their mother would have custody.

The case highlighted the long-standing problem of international child abductions, where one parent takes a child to a country where custody orders issued in the U.S. are ignored. More than 1,000 such cases are reported to the State Department each year.

Chebbi has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Tunisia. Federal prosecutors said he faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Edeanna Barbirou, the mother of the children, traveled to Tunisia and regained custody of her daughter early on. The Maryland woman said in an email Friday that she now also has her son, Eslam.

The case drew attention from Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin repeatedly wrote to Tunisian officials asking them to intervene. He met with former Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa in 2014 and discussed the case.

"Ms. Barbirou fought tirelessly to bring home both her children, and Eslam's long overdue return finally closes this difficult chapter for their family," Cardin said in a statement. "Like so many other international abduction cases my office sees, this case dragged on far longer than it should have."

More than 90 nations, including the United States, have signed a treaty to expedite the review of cross-border abduction cases. Tunisia has not signed the treaty.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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